Jack Garfein made "The Strange One" in 1957. It was adapted by Calder Willingham from first his novel and then his play "End as a Man". Actually the title "The Strange One" doesn't really do it justice; a better, if somewhat declamatory, title might have been 'The Evil One' since its central protagonist, Jocko De Paris, is one of the most sadistic and warped anti-heroes in all of fiction. The setting is a military academy in the Deep South and Jocko is cock of the walk. He rules with a combination of charm and viciousness but it all goes belly-up for him when he targets a young cadet and his father, who happens to be an officer there. His scheme involves four other cadets whose fear of him he's counting on. It's a melodramatic scenario that culminates in a bravura, sustained passage of mounting hysteria but it's brilliant in the way that the best of Tennessee Williams or William Inge are brilliant. Willingham's dialogue has the ring of poetry to it and Garfein, whose first film this was, (he's only made one since), directs it superbly.
Of course, it would have been nothing were it not for its cast, many of whom were totally unknown at the time. Ben Gazzara may already have been a star on the New York stage, (he was Brick in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"), but was an unknown quantity in the movies, (it was also his first film). His performance as Jocko should have made him a much bigger star than he ever became and it remains a career-best performance. Those who fall under his spell include Pat Hingle, James Olson, Arthur Storch and George Peppard. They are all terrific; Peppard, also making his screen debut, shows real promise and Hingle in outstanding.
There's also one overtly gay character, (though the whole picture is suffused with homo-eroticism), a cadet who fancies himself a writer and who is obviously in love with Jocko. He's played by Paul Richards as a grotesque and flamboyant queen, part Truman Capote and part Gore Vidal. In any other film this character would be offensively out of place but here he's just one more poisonous plant in this insidious hothouse. The film wasn't successful and is almost impossible to see now, at least here in the UK but it's a masterpiece and one of the best American films of the fifties. Essential.